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Announcing New E-Book! The Clausewitz Roundtable

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

The Clausewitz Roundtable edited by Michael J. Lotus, Mark Safranski and Lynn C. Rees

It is a common observation that Clausewitz is more often quoted than read. It could also be said with equal probability that Clausewitz is more often read than he is understood. In 2008 a group of bloggers, military officers, scientists, lawyers, professors, computer programmers, world travelers, Clausewitzian experts and Clausewitz skeptics came together online at Chicago Boyz blog to read and discuss On War together.

Founded by alumni of the University of Chicago,  Chicago Boyz seemed a good place to read On War in “the Chicago Way”, methodically, deeply and with attention to the original text discussing and debating each chapter in detail. For many of us it was a rich learning experience; some were reading On War for the first time, others had read it many times but all had insights to contribute, all found something in Clausewitz that was new. It was really blogging at it’s intellectual best and an experience that is now somewhat lost and forgotten in the rapid-fire era of 144 character tweets and Facebook memes.

We decided the discussions were interesting and profitable to merit being edited into an e-book for more convenient reading than leaving these discussions to gather digital dust in the archives. What do you get if you plunk down a mere $2.99 for The Clausewitz Roundtable?

A methodical and erudite chapter by chapter analysis and debate over On War and Clausewitz’s ideas

553  pages of discussion of strategy, strategic theory and military history including Napoleon, Ludendorff, Svechin, von Moltke, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Jomini, Herman Kahn, Ehud Barak, William Slim, John Boyd, Richard Nixon, Thomas Schelling, Vo Nguyen Giap,  Frantz Fanon and many others.

The original comments made on the posts, some of which were fine essays in their own right

If you are reading On War for the first time or are a master Clausewitzian, you will find The Clausewitz Roundtable to be a useful and engaging supplement.

Order a copy for the war nerd in your life!

Force and Faith — Turkey

Monday, July 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” ]
.

Stalin’s sneering rhetorical question meets Erdogan’s declaration of faith:

Tablet DQ 600 stalin erdogan

**

The idea of spiritual force is an old one, found eg in both New Testament and Qur’an

  • For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. — Ephesians 6.12

  • When you were calling upon your Lord for succour, and He answered you, ‘I shall reinforce you with a thousand angels riding behind you.’ — Qur’an 8.9
  • — and von Clausewitz:

  • One might say that the physical factors seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade.
  • How to draw a circle in a line

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Robert Redford and Brad Pitt on a Berlin rooftop ]
    .

    circle on a line Spy Game rooftop
    how do you draw a circle in an entirely linear medium?

    **

    The movie is Spy Game, with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.

    To my mind, it’s a brilliant piece of film making: director Tony Scott chose a terrific location for Nathan Muir (Redford)’s debrief reaming of Tom Bishop (Pitt), in the course of which Muir very pointedly tells Bishop:

    Listen to this, because this is important. If you’d pulled a stunt there and got nabbed, I wouldn’t come after you. You go off the reservation, I will not come after you.

    That’s the heart of the movie, right there, in negative — because the whole movie is about Bishop going off reservation in China, pulling a stunt there, and getting nabbed by the Chinese, and Muir coming after Bishop and rescuing him, with great shenanigans and flashbacks along the way.

    Scott wants to draw a circle around that point, to drive it home — but this is a movie, a totally linear sequence frames, whether celluloid or digital, so how do you draw a circle in a linear medium?

    Scott shoots the scene atop a circular roof, and before, during and after the conversation between the two men, has the camera circle the building:

    **

    I know, I stretch the limits of this blog mercilessly — and I’m spending this post on a piece of cinema technique. Let’s just say that I take Adam Elkus‘ words seriously:

    Clausewitz himself was heavily inspired by ideas from other fields and any aspiring Clausewitzian ought to mimic the dead Prussian’s habit of reading widely and promiscuously.

    I’m being promiscuous.

    **

    There are two other major points caught in Scott’s tight circle. One offers the essence of Spy Game, emphasis on the spy:

    Bishop: Okay, help me understand this one. Nathan, what are we doing here? Don’t bullshit me about the greater good.
    Muir: That’s exactly what it’s about. Because what we do is, unfortunately, very necessary.

    The other gets to the other half of the name Spy Gamegame:

    Bishop: It’s not a fucking game!
    Muir: Yes, it is. That’s exactly what it is. It’s no kid’s game, either, but a whole other game. And it’s serious, and it’s dangerous, and it’s not one you want to lose.

    So, in the gospel according to Spy Game, espionage is a deadly and death-dealing game, played unfortunately but very necessarily for the greater good. All that in three short minutes, with a circle drawn around it for emphasis.

    **

    Thus a problem in geometry is artfully transcended.

    Small Wars and Big Thoughts

    Saturday, March 19th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]


    U.S. Marines display captured flag of Nicaraguan rebels led by Augusto Cesar Sandino

    While pop-centric COIN may be dead, small wars and irregular warfare will always be with us. We might say they are in the fourth or fifth generation; are an open-source insurgency; or have become “hybrid“; or exist in some kind of mysteriousgray zone“. Whatever we call them, small wars are here to stay.

    Two recent publications explore the topic.

    The first is a taxonomic work from Robert Bunker at the Strategic Studies Institute:

    Old and New Insurgency Forms

    ….Blood Cultist (Emergent). Strategic implications:  Limited to moderate. This insurgency form can be viewed as a mutation of either radical Islam and/or rampant criminality, as found in parts of Latin America and Africa, into dark spirituality based on cult-like behaviors and activities involving rituals and even human sacrifice. To respond to this insurgency form, either federal law enforcement or the military will be the designated lead depending on the specific international incident taking place. An all-of-government approach will be required to mitigate and defeat this insurgency form, which has terrorism (and narco-terrorism) elements that represent direct threats—especially concerning the Islamic State—to the U.S. homeland […]

    I strongly agree with Bunker’s “dark spirituality” angle present in deviant religious-military movements. For example, ISIS, for all its protestations of ultra-orthodoxy in its Salafism exudes a spirit of protean paganism in its words and deeds.

    The second is a book, Clausewitz on Small War by Christopher Daase and James W. Davis (Hat tip to Nick Prime). From a book review at the London School of Economics:

    ….The current generation’s trend in understanding Clausewitz is that of moving beyond On War – an analysis which Clausewitz himself considered incomplete and which was published posthumously. As part of this shift, 2015 alone saw the publication of a new account of his life, together with a biography of his wife and a comparison between Napoleon’s and Clausewitz’s ideas on war, to name a few.

    Through Clausewitz on Small War, Christopher Daase and James W. Davis make a significant contribution to such efforts of contextualisation. Yet theirs is quite distinct from other works, in that they translate into English writings that were thus far accessible only to those with a reading knowledge of German. This is precisely where the value of the book lies, as well as being the editors’ primary aim: opening up Clausewitz through translating his own words, rather than in interpreting them. In doing so, they offer the tools through which future analyses can be better informed.

    The editors nonetheless do set out a case in the introduction: Clausewitz’s writings on ‘Small War’ are testimony to his continuing relevance. To illustrate this, they offer four chronologically arranged texts – a journey of how his thinking on Small War evolved. Each text was written with a different frame of mind. The first is comprised of lecture notes on small-unit warfare that are informal and rather technical; the second and third are memoranda distributed to military reformers and through which Clausewitz passionately makes the case for militias; and the final is a chapter from On War, again on the arming of the people.

    I would add that ZP contributor, Lynn Rees, also had a recent post on the role of Marie von Clausewitz in shaping “Clausewitz” and Clausewitzian thought.

    That’s it.

    One quick parallel, one liberation long in coming

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

    [jotted by Lynn C. Rees]

    Listening to this presentation by Vanya Eftimova Bellinger on her biography of Marie von Clausewitz (helpfully titled Marie von Clausewitz), one quick parallel and one liberation (long in coming) came to mind:

    Quick parallel:

    As editor of On War, Marie deliberately left On War unfinished.

    Carl’s unforeseen death on November 16, 1831 from the cholera left a jumble of papers instead of a book. Marie was left to assemble them into publishable form. Received wisdom long held that Marie’s editorial activity was passive, with the heavy lifting and hard thinking left to her brother Friedrich or some other dude among Carl’s comrades.

    Bellinger’s research, based on newly recovered letters Marie and Carl exchanged over their 21 year marriage, reveals the received wisdom as received nonsense: Marie was intimately involved in both the development and detail of Carl’s ideas. Some of Carl’s ideas may in fact be Marie and Carl’s ideas or even Marie’s ideas (though, as a devoted couple, of one mind and one heart, where did one end and the other begin?). She was only qualified editor for Carl’s work other than Carl.

    Despite this, she chose to leave it largely as Carl left it, uneven, unfinished, unpolished, and frequently deeply divided against itself. Marie saw Carl’s book, even unfinished, as the greatest work on the study of war ever written. Yet she felt that, providentially perhaps, its incomplete and unsettled state made On War more of an invitation to advance the study of war beyond even her beloved Carl than The One Book On War To Rule Them All. The large blanks left in On War are not, as long claimed, artifacts of a loving but inexpert widow, hopelessly lost among the Great Thoughts of a Great Man. They are roads so wide that the future can move through them with ease, a lasting tribute by a woman of vision to a man of vision she understood better than the small-minded historians (usually dudes) left in her shadow.

    This reminds me of the late Col. John Boyd’s slides and the complaints some make that the Colonel didn’t leave behind a comprehensive treatise on war like, um, On War. The Colonel lived as he preached: he was against the formation of orthodoxies, even, and especially, Boydian orthodoxies. He believed they contributed to the closed thinking that Boydian-flavored tactics sought to create in the enemies they targeted. A closed enemy mind is prey to its own illusions. Left without lifelines to reality, a mind’s mental entropy accumulates until it consumes itself and collapses into fatal disorder. Orthodoxy belongs to the same family of tactics, only now the victim is yourself. Orthodoxy is mental suicide.

    The Colonel was not going to be a military Aristotle. He was not going to leave behind a body of work so all-encompassing that it euthanized contrary thinking for the next two millennia. So he left behind a bunch of slides, as suggestive in what they don’t say as in what they do say. Filling in the blanks is left as an exercise to viewer.

    This has not prevented the rise of a class of Boydian true believers, picking over each slide in search of their master’s Original Intent. This is not the Colonel’s fault: as a peddler of interesting stories, he could no more prevent the rise of the Church of St. John the Boyd than Marie could prevent the rise of the Church of St. Carl the Clausewitz. To herd is human, to stand alone is divine. Yet Marie, like the Colonel, and, perhaps, like Carl, left room for the creative spirit to roam in spite of the best efforts of men of the straight path to restrict it to the Wise and Inscrutable Colonel’s Secret Original Recipe. As the Colonel was a Boyd but not a Boydian, Marie was a Clausewitz but not a Clausewitzian.

    Liberation, long in coming: 

    Marie’s influence manifests itself most strongly in those chapters attributed to the mature Carl. This means Book 1 Chapter 1, whether with its vintage Cold War Howard-Paret gloss or not. The insight, even the phrasing, of Carl’s famous “War is the continuation of politics with the admixture of other means”, may have originated with Marie.

    Marie, born Maria Sophie, Countess von Bruhl, came from a higher social class than Carl. By most measures, she was a far better politician than Carl. The progress of Carl’s career depended as much on Marie as it did on more historically prominent patrons like Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Marie was a lady-in-waiting to multiple Hohenzollern princesses. She was involved and influential in the court politics of Prussia. Such politics may bear a closer resemblance to the social politics portrayed in the novel’s of Marie’s English contemporary Jane Austen than to those portrayed in conventional political history. Yet they may exercise as much, if not more, influence as the brow furrowings of serious statesmen.

    Today’s received wisdom is that women were entirely absent from a substantial role in politics until the enlightenment of the late twentieth century gave its institutional validation on the role of women in politics by granting them official line titles. This received wisdom belittles the power that women whose lives or times bore little resemblance to those of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant-flavored careerist have exercised through the ages. Their politics may seem unimportant, even quaint. Yet they have exercised a sway that has gone largely overlooked by later historians.

    In this, 1960s-flavored women’s history ironically often shares the biases of the most male chauvinist historians of the past. Because it was not labelled or institutionalized as capital P politics, it must have been unimportant lower case p politics. Marie knew otherwise and knew otherwise better than Carl. She was established in the highest corridors of power. She knew how the interactions of men and women in high places and high proximity fed the sausage machine that led to war and peace and took lives. She saw how war was the continuation of politics, her politics, capitalized or not, with the addition of other (usually violent) means.

    I suspect later Prussian and German military thinkers sensed this. Moltke’s nose curled at any interference in war making from civilians, even those with facial hair more formidable than his own like Bismarck. He may have sensed that, behind Bismarck, there were forces that would have stymied Wilhelm I’s Paris 1870, a reunion tour that rolled on to cataclysmic crescendo at Berlin 1945 after unscheduled stops at Marne 1914, Verdun 1916, and other blood-stained venues. Moltke may have sensed the feminine infiltrating his manly clubhouse. Politics is a game both men and women play. Acknowledging the role of politics in war may have led to even Moltke having to acknowledge that, GASP!!!, women might acquire a role in war as a logical continuation of their role in politics. That could have led to even more civilians stifling Moltke’s fun.

    The horror.

    And here, perhaps, is Marie von Clausewitz’s most compelling legacy: liberation of the study of war, and, perhaps ultimately, its governance, from its sole reliance on masculinity.


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